The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton Essay

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton Essay

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Nature verses nurture is an ongoing debate between people for centuries now. Some believe that a person is born with certain traits and characteristics that will remain true for the rest of their life. Others believe that every person is born into the world with a blank slate that can be mold into an image of whichever the parent desired it to be. In the case of Lily Bart, the protagonist in The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, the characterization which was placed upon her by Wharton made her eventual descent in society inevitable. Her upbringing, indecisiveness, and morality do not allow her to seize the opportunities for marriage which ultimately ended in her death at the end of the novel.
Lily Bart’s background from a modest family sets the foundation for her values and goals in life. Her upbringing is an important characterization device that the author uses. Wharton describes Lily’s household as a place in which “no one ever dined at home unless there was ‘company’” (32). In this setting, Wharton shows that the house is greatly rule by the need for appearances. While Lily’s mother is vigorous in her effort to save money, there never seem to be enough money. Even so, Wharton shows that the upbringing under the influence of her mother lead Lily to develops a taste for splendor and distaste for dinginess: “…Lily imbibed the idea that if people lived like pigs it was from choice, and through the lack of any proper standard of conduct. This gave her a sense of reflected superiority, and she did not need Mrs. Bart’s comments on the family frumps and misers to foster her naturally lively taste for splendour” (34). This desire for splendor ultimately led to her downfall because she is unable to choose between her desire and her fe...


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...ride does not allow her to stoop down to Bertha’s level. Through the treatment of the letters, Wharton characterizes Lily Bart as a moral-conscious character who is unable to blackmail people into getting what she wants. The morality of Lily’s character is set up for failure in a society that unquestioningly accepts the manipulations of its people.
Edith Wharton creates Lily as a character that is unable to lower herself to society’s manipulations in The House of Mirth through her characteristics and flaws. Her mother’s teaching and her father’s role in her life make Lily believes that money was everything, and a husband only serves as an economic stability; therefore, love is not important. Lily’s inability to control her feeling for Selden and blackmail Bertha Dorset lead to her social descend at the end of the novel, and a death that she could not escape from.

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